Chapter 209 - Bonds (1)

Life is infinitely complex. A lot can be said about how infinity is merely a lack of understanding. But, Re-Haan contemplates, the people that tend to say those type of things are always rather far removed from the drudgeries of everyday life. Braincores can hanker on about theoretical limits and paradoxical super-states, Re-Haan hasn’t been able to muster up the effort to show interest in things that far removed from reality. And she suspects that she never might, now.

Yet, despite not understanding or comprehending the concept of infinity on any level except the most superficial, she does miss it something fierce. Life used to be this mystery. The past was behind her, known and fading fast. The present is the dividing line between the unknown and the all too familiar regrets of before. And the future that used to be filled with possibilities and potential is now but a simple model to Re-Haan.

Dragons do not die. It is simply unheard. Never in all her long and largely asleep life has Re-Haan heard even a whisper of a death in the Flight. Dragons just don’t die. It’s as easy as that. Or it was as easy as that; she barely manages to think. No matter how much she now regrets her overreaction, she is currently utterly incapable of escaping from the predicament she has found herself in.

Seeing one of the few people she loved all her life dead on the rubble-strewn ice forced her mind into all kinds of unpleasant places. She has gone over the sequence of events a million times by now, replaying every single second of those horrible minutes preceding the hell she has found herself in.

She stopped beating herself up for making less than optimal decisions a while ago. Looking back at the past, she can see in perfect clarity. Every single better choice she could have made, even with the limited thinking power she has available at the moment.

She methodically goes through the sequence of events once more, her mind desperately searching for something new to occupy itself with. She recalls tearing through time and space, and once again recalls how difficult it felt. Instead of the seamless popping feeling and sound that usually occurs when travelling through Tree’s weird portal, this time she felt like pushing through thick water.

The smells, emotions and sights she saw upon appearing above the icy battlefield are rather muted as she recalls events. All the tiny errors in judgement she made pass the review once more. She could have saved that dragon by shooting a projectile over there, could have shot that ice projectile from the sky by aiming over there, and more. Each preventable death is another stab in her heart, another horrible prelude for the terrible events she knows will bubble up in her memories once more.

Then the weave ripples. The prison she has found herself stuck in, a horrible construct of meaning, power and self-sustaining qi formations, wavers with new information and messages.

The small fragment of her crawling mind still under her own control blurrily wakes from the stupor she has found herself stuck in for subjective years. Realisations shoot through her mind, and she does not want any of them. As she was reliving the past, she had been working on figuring out what happened, and why the bloodbath she had witnessed had come to pass.

Stray thoughts and comments she had been picking up here and there led her to believe that the relatively large access to Database that Drew and herself had given to the Flight was part of the equation. Re-Haan is sure someone stumbled across the data concerning the south pole and the high amount of qi and enemies that had been present. Their naturally arrogant dispositions then must have led them to form a piss poor plan. Just rush in, and all will be alright since they are the Flight and thus they will naturally win.

Her uncle, probably one of the few voices of reason in the chaos, either got silenced, got someone angry, or just got unlucky. The rings given out by Teach do indeed have ownership circuits embedded in them, but the cheaper ones become up for grabs upon the owners' death. The fact that the All-Dragon stuffed her uncle in his newly gained ring is a sign that the pompous asshat wasn't totally stupid. The fact that he probably got caught off-guard while tossing out all the books her uncle had stored, thus leading to his demise, counteracts that conclusion a fair bit.

They are both dead and frozen now, though. Very little she can do about that. She knows that resurrection is a thing but hasn’t allowed herself to spend any of her limited thinking capacity on that subject. Instead, she has been rooting out the moon’s influence. Drew calls the enigmatic antagonist up in the sky Nexus, and Re-Haan has to admit that it’s a pretty fitting name. It’s a spider in a web ensnaring a solar system, after all.

She has started getting a feel for what it has been up to but has long since learned to not allow herself to think those thoughts out in the open like this. She managed to put the rotating woven formation into place above her, just to the side, but adjusting it all the time takes too much effort. So now, she only thinks true thoughts in the small timeframe that the moon is hidden by the spinning gauze circle. All the other times, she flees to the past in order to avoid her current predicament.

Skipping right past the nasty thoughts she started having when she discovered her uncle dead, she recalls the visage of Drew as he came to her. The horrible system she had started was already picking up too much momentum by that time to stop. He did try though. She watched his skin rip apart time and time again. The sheer power running through her mind at that point was dense enough to control hundreds of massively powerful dragons, but he tried again and again. The sheer pressure of meaning and existence that was forming the tree-shaped cycle around her nearly killed him a few times, but all he did was look at her with a pained expression on his face before retreating. She barely managed to hear his last words.

“I’m not following you in this one, love.”

There had been no accusation, fear, anger, or any other negative emotion on his face. Just sheer and desperate loneliness. It tears her heart apart each time she recalls these memories. She knows that ordinary mortals rewrite memories each time they think of them, inevitably mutating and changing them every time. She knows that her braincore prevents any of this. Just the strengthened connection to her soul that comes with her cultivation level allows her crisp and clear recollections whenever she wants them. Also, when she doesn’t want them.

Another ripple runs through the prison of light around her, and this time Re-Haan manages to keep her small consciousness aimed at the present. A third ripple, the strongest yet, is accompanied by a feeling of power radiating from far away. The data streaming through her mind shifts from logistical analysis and long term planning calculations to images sourced from draconic eyes.

At the edge of the area she is controlling - a sphere five thousand kilometres in diameter - she sees a single figure putting out immense amounts of pressure. The lack of a rabbit on his shoulder somehow the first thing she notices, she sees Drew. And he looks mighty pissed. A shudder of emotion that Re-Haan is only recently familiar with shakes up the massive rigid tree sprouting upwards from her still form. The minuscule conscious part of her mind starts fidgeting excitedly with a hint of nervous anticipation.

She both dreads and anticipates that data that follows. She can’t direct anything herself, as the directive she put in place is still going strong. They aren’t allowing her a single micrometre of breathing room, neither on the physical nor on the mental level. Her body is doing fine without food, air, water, or movement, so she gets none of that. Her mind is not so sturdy, however. A small corner of her brain is all she gets, barely enough to string a coherent thought together, yet observing the world at but a fraction of normal speed.

So she watches. She catches a glimpse of an odd scene, his sword vanishing into dust and disappearing. He seems to shiver a bit between two images she sees, as he is clutching his thin clothing tightly in another flash of recorded sight. The multitude of dragon eyes trained on Drew guarantee that she catches a glimpse of him at least once each minute of studious searching.

She observes with rapt attention as he moves in weird ways that seem to break all kinds of universal laws. He withstands forces that can crumble stone to dust as he is doused with a constant stream of dragon breath. There is obviously something going on with his skin, as the grey and dull complexion she can see between gouts of fire, darkness, and lighting is not a look he usually sports.

The bright sun reflecting off his shining and metallic body is also something new. She doesn’t even bother keeping tabs on the dragons that are being beaten up, so focused is she on observing the small man. Surrounded by beings tens, hundreds, and even thousands of times his own size, he swings between scales faces containing eyeballs larger than his head. Dragon after dragon falls from the sky, the connection with the rigid construct controlling them broken by brute force.

Then one of the brightest shining threads starts moving, and Re-Haan holds her breath. The fight with her revered ancestor is anticlimactic. Instead of having an epic duel to the death, the small man merely snaps the tether controlling the enormous being and takes control. Then Re-Haan has the sudden urge to both scratch his eyes out and criticise his looks. In her foggy state of mind, she isn’t sure why or how, but the current way he stands, his complexion, and his feeling, in general, feels immensely aggravating to the trapped dragon in human form.

Then a group of capillaries at least twice as bright as the one controlling the ancestor thread themselves into being. Bright lances of meaning and data shoot up and around Re-Haan, shooting down from the intricate weave of branch and limb in a rather festive display. Re-Haan feels anything but festive, though. She had managed to catch glimpses of the outside world now and then, but she failed to catch wind of any of this. How and when did this insidious system she made in a sudden bout of grief and anger entrap more of her ancestors?

Like monsters rising from the grave, dragons slough off meters of snow. Scaled bodies that dwarf the earthen colossus the All-Dragon woke from his slumber a few months earlier move jerkily. An entire rainbow of glassy-eyed and silent behemoths rise, the white mounds she previously thought mere mountains resolving themselves into dragons. The smallest one over two kilometres in length, true worry seeps into her heart for the first time.

This worry evolves from a silent gnawing to a simmer gut roil as she observes the preparations her own brain deems necessary. Following the most optimal paths that logic can dictate, the white branches of her very own management tree orchestrate a blockade. She can see the logic behind each action it takes, and it makes her sick.

Taking control of all the dragons in order to prevent loss of more life is indeed a positive net sum when only taking lives saved into account. She has regretted her impulsive actions of creating a large process with a single focus seconds after creating said process. The loss of her uncle might have been a devastating blow to her, but Re-Haan has had plenty of time to look at the situation through the perspective of hindsight. And she knows that enslaving the entire Flight using her own cultivation base might have been a bit of an overreaction.

Then Re-Haan’s gut clenches once more. Even now, her physical eyes are still looking at the sorry sight of two dragon corpses. Even now, she can’t tear her eyeballs away from the miserably looking dragon that basically raised her. His silent demeanour and his love of books - now carelessly scattered on the ice. Never will she…

She tears her mind away from the things she can’t change at the moment and instead tries to focus on the present and future. She observes with growing worries as the dragons that formed the ring Drew broke through are nearly abandoned to their fate, their branches dimming to obscurity. The pillar of light around Re-Haan blazes to light with different strands turning luminescent. Calculations flit through her brain, too fast for her conscious self to see.

Then follows a true piece of dragon acrobatics. Re-Haan manages to catch enough glimpses to understand what the general plan is, and its ruthless optimised efficiency make her sick to her stomach. Instead of actively engaging the perceived threat coming her way, her management system now decides to use Drew’s unwillingness to kill needlessly against him. Every single dragon on the north pole starts flying towards her, slowly forming a ring around the place where she is sitting still.

Each long and sinuous body contorts in complex ways, stretching joints until their breaking point and twisting necks into pretzels. Using the age-old ancestors as building blocks, an impressive wall is made from coiling and extremely vulnerable dragon flesh. She knows that the ice below is saturated with supermassive junk, and thus the managerial tree around her knows this. There is little fear of cracking the ice with too much draconic weight, so a truly complex and bizarre ballet plays itself out around Re-Haan, encasing her and the glowing tree in a massive dome of dragons that are all stretched to breaking.

A single attack on the wall of entangled dragons is sure to reap massive casualties. Re-Haan starts fighting again. She has given up a thousand times by now, the speed at which she is crawling combined with the minuscule amount of thinking capacity she has access to allows her to do a lot of single threaded thinking. She went through the same process over and over again. First, she railed against the cage she put herself in. Then, she tries pleading, sabotage, shifting some numbers here and there. Finally, when she failed to do anything productive at all, because error checking processes correct any changes she made, and her suggestions are always seen as ‘less than optimal,’ she'd give up again.

Not this time. This time, half of her race is intertwined in a blockade that is purposely built to break with maximum casualties. Ancient ancestors that have been awake for longer than she has slept are about to die, if she doesn’t do anything. She both hates and admires the ruthlessly efficient way in which her very own despotic cultivation base makes decisions. Yes, this might cause the loss off over half of the resources named the Flight, but that chance is so low, it’s negligible.

Then Drew arrives, and she sees him take a single look at the tightly strung and wriggling wall of bodies and bones encasing Re-Haan. “Damn girl,” she hears him say. “This is a fresh kind of fucked up. Using your own kin as a… No, she knows I’d never… Then what about the trash dumping?”

Re-Haan and Drew both look upwards at the spinning circle of cloth. Moving swiftly, the blurry haze of white is interposed between the ground and each falling star, bouncing the smoking and glowing items to the side.

“Not what I gave that thing to you for. You really do need punishment.” And then Drew is gone. Although time is going a hundred times slower for Re-Haan, and although over a hundred pairs of eyes are trained upon the man, he disappears all of a sudden. The only thing that’s left where he stood a black hole.

The rigid tree around Re-Haan bursts into life. The massive wall of scaled flesh surrounding her is swiftly disassembled, dragons uncoiling at speed. Breath attacks are readied, wings are stretched, and teeth are bared. At the same time, the first gout of flame reaches the hole, shot from the dozens of meter wide maw of the biggest fire ancestor, the ground to the side of Re-Haan bulges upwards.

Drew bursts from the ice, a rather sickly pallor to his face. Not saying a single thing, Re-Haan sees him appear in slow motion. She might be experiencing life a hundred times slower than usual, yet Drew is moving twice as slow as usual at most. She barely has time to register this new development as his shining fist slams into the side of the white tree. Cracks are patched over quickly, flowing branches and threads strengthening the glowing bark.

Yet before the last crack has faded, Drew’s foot smashed through, whipping around like a snapped spring. The shattered fragments of the glowing qi construct fade into nothingness, the sharp edges leaving red cuts in Re-Haan's body before they fade. Then follows a fist, which gloriously knocks a few teeth loose from Re-Haan’s mouth. As a result, she slams against the inside of the glowing trunk, opposite Drew’s forced entry. Blood sprays from her mouth and Re-Haan watches with muted fascination as her bloody teeth tumble through the air.

Then Drew’s foot once again swoops around, his frame bending in impossible ways. A few more teeth are smashed free, and Re-Haan thinks that this is all moving a bit fast. Even at a hundred times slow motion, Drew is moving nearly too fast to see. She slams against the inner trunk again and barely has bounced back when Drew’s other foot slams into her head a second time, delivering the third blow of this one-sided beat-down. White fragments of bark splinter-free, and Re-Haan bursts free from the prison of her own cultivation base.

“WHA TOOF YOU FO LONG?” Screaming through bloody lips, Re-Haan turns around the moment she is free from the shining trunk. She lands and continues her tirade. “AN ENFIRE MONFH? IF FOOK YOU AN ENFIRE FUKING MONFH?”

“A bit busy, love,” Drew mumbles through closed lips. He hangs inside the flickering tree as cracks develop from the two splintered openings in the trunk. 

“Fhaf’s no excufe. Here, lef me helf, you fucking basfard.” Patting herself down, Re-Haan steps back into the slowly dissolving tree, keeping tabs on the many, many branches shooting at the pair with high speed.

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